Social Work Day at the U.N. Celebrated

— Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff


Practitioners, educators and students convened on April 6 for the 26th Annual Social Work Day at the United Nations in New York City.

The theme for the 2009 program was “Global Poverty: Challenges for Social Work Practice.”

Social Work Day at the United Nations is co-presented by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW). NASW and its chapters in New York City, New York State, New Jersey and Connecticut are collaborating organizations. Additionally, 24 colleges and universities support the effort.

Robin Mama, IFSW co-chair and immediate past chair of NASW’s International Committee, and Michael Cronin, IFSW’s main representative to the United Nations, helped organize the event.

Aaron Greenberg, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, presented “Dawn of a Social Work Revolution? Opportunities, Challenges & the Role of UNICEF.” Bernardo Kliksberg, chief adviser of the Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean at the United Nations Development Programme and special adviser to UNICEF presented “Poverty Across Generations,” and Shulamith Koenig, founder and executive director of People’s Movement for Human Rights Education, presented “Learning About Human Rights as a Way of Life at the Community Level, and Its Impact on Economic and Social Justice.” Michael Sherraden, Benjamin E. Youngdahl professor of social development and founding director of the Center for Social Development at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, was the wrap-up speaker.

NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark spoke at the IFSW/IASSW reception. “International social work is important because social work is the profession of hope,” she said. “We do not deny the harsh realities of our societies and our world. Instead, we recognize that hope transcends reality, and that the collective efforts of social workers from all of our countries can, and will, continue to improve and enrich the world in which we live.”

People from around the world who are committed to making a difference through a career in social work have been meeting at the United Nations for Social Work Day for the past 25 years to learn about the United Nations, innovative projects and issues related to international social work, as well as to make U.N. staff and the governments represented at the United Nations more aware of the critical role social work plays in their countries and elsewhere.

The United Nations, founded after World War II, works to maintain international peace and security and develop friendly relations among countries. It is also committed to promoting peace, humanitarian assistance to those in need, poverty alleviation, and improved living standards. The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifies basic rights and freedoms to which all are entitled, including the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; the right to work and to be educated; the right to food and housing; and the right to take part in government. Social work addresses many of these issues.

“The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty,” the NASW Code of Ethics states.

The day before the U.N. event, the Global Social Work Student Conference on international social work took place at the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service in New York City. The theme was “Human Rights Advocacy!” NASW President James Kelly presented.

“Social workers know that despite incredible advances in human history, human rights violations are still prevalent throughout the world. There has been a resurgence of violence and oppression against ethnic and racial minority groups, and against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in many regions of the globe -- and poverty is endemic,” Kelly said at the conference. “We know that civil and political rights must be supplemented by economic, social and cultural rights. We know that a combination of legislative, social and economic changes are required to ensure that everyone has the right, and the tools, to survive and thrive.”

The student conference offered workshop sessions with practitioners and activists in international social work. Workshop topics included: social implications of climate change; careers in social work; advocacy within GLBT rights; immigrant and refugee rights protection; human rights learning; youth and human trafficking; torture and resilience; social work and the economy; and international development.